The Gospel of Mark—Jesus, the Servant

Most likely the first of the four gospels written, Mark is a fast-paced narrative recorded primarily for Gentiles. The text is written mainly in Greek and contains some Latin. It frequently translates words and phrases from Hebrew and Aramaic and explains Jewish customs that would have been unfamiliar to a non-Jewish audience.

John Mark was apparently associated with Jesus later in His ministry. Although not one of the twelve apostles, Mark may have been a member of the household where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the last supper. The scene of the young man in the sheet fleeing naked from the soldiers in Mark 14:51-52 seems to indicate Mark followed Jesus and His disciples from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. Although we are aware of Mark’s relationship to Paul and Barnabus from Acts 12, 13 and 15, we learn that he was also associated with Peter, according to 1 Peter 5:13. There is a good chance that Mark wrote his gospel under the dictation of the Apostle Peter, since the book contains many references to incidences only he would have known about (e.g.—Mark 1:16-31). According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, this would set the date of the writing of this book somewhere between A.D. 55 and 68—around the martyrdom of Peter (c. A.D. 64) and before the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) [© 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc., p. 327].

Mark’s Gospel follows Jesus’ movements from place-to-place throughout the holy land—in Galilee, on the way to Judea, and then in Jerusalem. The shortest of the four Gospels, it reads like a novella, featuring a lot of action and suspense. It shows how Jesus exercised His divine power and authority over evil spirits, sin, nature, disease and death, and the Jewish traditions. It also shows how He served God and others faithfully, ultimately offering Himself as a sacrifice to save us all. There is much less focus on the teaching of Jesus than on what He did and how others reacted to Him.

Mark Chapter 1
The first sentence of Mark’s gospel lets us know who is the hero of his book: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But then, he immediately introduced another important person, John the Baptist, by quoting Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, which foretold his coming:

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.”

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’”
(Mk. 1:2-3)

Mark explained that John baptized people in the wilderness and preached to them about being sorry for their sins, so that they could be forgiven (v. 4). In a nation starved for 400 years of hearing the word of YHWH, John’s preaching caused quite a stir. Folks from all over Judea and the holy city of Jerusalem came out to hear him and be “baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (5).

Some may have come out to see the spectacle of this desert prophet dressed in a camel-hair garment—possibly something more like burlap than the furry skins in which popular film and illustrations normally depict him—and a leather belt. Stranger, still, was his diet of “locusts and wild honey,” which seem undesirable to Westerners, but was perfectly Kosher, according to Mosaic Law (Mk. 1:6; Leviticus 11:22).

John understood that his mission was not to gather followers for himself, but to point people to the coming Christ. He told whoever came to listen, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8, NIV).

Although John the Baptist was important to Mark’s narrative, he did not dwell on him or his message as long as the other gospel writers. Instead, Mark jumped right back into his story about the Lord, telling us that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (v. 9). As soon as He came out of the water, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus—either in the physical form or in the manner of a dove lighting on its perch (10). Just to make sure that John knew Who he had just baptized, the Father in heaven declared this blessing over Jesus: “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (11).

With characteristic urgency that the careful reader will notice throughout his gospel, Mark said, “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness,” where Jesus was tempted for forty days by Satan (12-13). Whereas Matthew and Luke presented some of the dialogue between the devil and Jesus (Mt. 4:1-11 & Lk. 4:1-13), Mark skipped all of that and said only that Jesus “was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.” Leaping ahead once more, Mark told his readers, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,” urging people to repent and believe (Mk. 1:14-15).

Verses 16-20 describe the recruitment of Jesus’ first disciples. As He strolled along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said to Simon and Andrew his brother, who were casting a net into the sea, “Come, follow me! I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish” (Mark 1:16-17, GW). Without hesitation, the brothers left their livelihood and followed Jesus (v. 18). Essentially the same conversation with the same response occurred between the Lord and two other fishermen, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending their nets (19-20). Apparently, by this time, people had heard about Rabbi Jesus, since Zebedee made no effort to stop his sons from leaving the family business. Would modern-day parents be so accommodating?

From there, the fellows went into Capernaum, where Jesus entered the synagogue and taught on the Sabbath (21). Here is another indication that Jesus had gained some notoriety, as not just anyone off the streets would be allowed to preach on a Saturday in the local Jewish house of worship. Unlike other guest rabbis, however; Jesus astounded his audience by teaching them “as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (22).

Mark then related the first of many of Jesus’ exorcisms. A man in the worship service had ‘an unclean spirit’ and cried out, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (23-24). Jesus silenced the demon and commanded it to come out of the man (25). It put up a fight, sending the poor fellow into convulsions and crying out some more, before the spirit left its victim (26). How embarrassing it must have been to become such a spectacle in the middle of a worship service! Yet, how wonderful to be free—perhaps for the first time in years—of an oppressive spirit.

This further amazed the eyewitnesses, who wondered how a man could not only teach with authority these new ideas, but was even obeyed by demonic spirits (27). It was not long before Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee” (28).

After the meeting, Jesus and His four disciples went over to Simon and Andrew’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever of some sort (29-30). Jesus took the woman’s hand, raised her up, and the fever disappeared (31). So complete and rapid was her recovery, that the dear lady began to wait on the five men!

By evening, after the Sabbath was over, word had gotten around about this miracle-worker. Folks from “the whole city” brought to the house where Jesus was staying their sick and those who were demon-possessed (32-33). Apparently He attended to every case—healing people with all sorts of diseases and casting out many demons—again, not allowing the demons to speak because of their insider knowledge of who Jesus was (34).

Unlike modern-day physicians or psychiatrists, Jesus didn’t set up shop in that place and expect folks to come to him for healing and deliverance. Instead, He slipped out early the next morning for prayer, and then prepared to move on to the next village (35 & 37). When Simon and the others found Jesus and pointed out that everyone was looking for Him, the Lord explained that He needed to preach in other towns, as well, since that was His mission (36-38). Soon, Jesus’ itinerant ministry spread throughout all of Galilee, where He preached in their synagogues and cast out demons (39).

On one occasion a leper came to Jesus, kneeling down and begging for help.“If You are willing,” the man said, “You can make me clean” (40). “[M]oved with compassion,” Jesus reached out and touched the man, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” (41). Not only was it extraordinary that the Lord healed a disease for which there was no known cure, but that He was willing to touch a person who was so contagious that Jewish Law required strict isolation and quarantine (Mk. 1:42; Lev. 13:1-46).

Rather than have the fellow stick around and offer the thanks Jesus rightly deserved, the Lord “sent him away at once,” instructing the man to “say nothing to anyone;” but to show himself to the priest, and make the customary offering for cleansing “as a testimony to them.” (Mk. 1:43-44; Lev. 14:1-32). Instead, the former leper broadcast what Jesus had done to such an extent that the Lord “could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places;” where people came from miles around to receive His ministry (Mk. 1:45).